Eunice and Justin do The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The_Hobbit _1_poster“You can promise that I will come back?” “…No. And if you do, you will not be the same.”

The Scoop: 2012 PG-13, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, and Richard Armitage

Tagline: From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends.

Summary Capsule: A little hobbit begins an adventure with thirteen dwarves and a wizard.

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Eunice’s Rating: “He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time!”

Eunice’s Review: Let me just start this review with a statement: I loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

You won’t find me following critics who want to whine and complain about length. Or that it isn’t exactly like The Lord of the Rings, guess what it’s not supposed to be. I think people just need to chillax and remember what it’s like to just have fun watching a movie instead of finding things to pick apart about it. I enjoyed myself and I make no apologies for it.

Sixty years prior to the events of LotR, Bilbo Baggins is a very quiet respectable hobbit in The Shire leading a very quiet respectable life. He loves books and maps and tales of the world, but he’s perfectly happy sitting in front of a cozy fire with his pipe thank you very much. That is until one morning when a great big bearded fellow dressed in grey shows up outside his house. This turns out to be Gandalf the Grey, who was a friend to Bilbo’s mother’s side of the family, the adventurous and therefore not as respectable Tooks. Gandalf wants Bilbo to come on an adventure with him, which Bilbo flatly refuses. The next day, after Gandalf sneakily puts a mark on Bilbo’s door, Bilbo begins to get unexpected visitors. Dwarves to be exact. They just keep showing up until there’s twelve dwarves plus Gandalf, and then the last dwarf arrives. Thorin “Oakenshield”, a dwarven king in exile after the dragon Smaug laid waste to Erebor to take the dwarves’ treasure. Well now the thirteen dwarves are going back to the Lonely Mountain to take back their treasure and if possible the kingdom. Gandalf agreed to help them and has also volunteered Bilbo into service as a “burglar.” So after Bilbo decides, yes he would like to have an adventure, we set off on our journey to face orcs and goblins, meet wizards and elves, and enjoy the beautiful New Zealand Middle-earth scenery.

There are two things you need to know before watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

    1) This is the first of a trilogy. That means no definite ending.
    2) Along with the book is mixed in other Middle-earth stories.

TH:AUJ kinda covers through the beginning of chapter seven. Now if your wondering how one 300-ish page children’s fantasy book can turn into three movies I refer to point 2 above. Also included is stuff from the appendices found in the back of LotR: Return of the King and Unfinished Tales, namely The Quest of Erebor.

There’s also a reworked/added storyline put in by the script writers (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson) with pale orc Azog chasing after Thorin and crew. Now I know the purist in me should be disgruntled, but I admit I kinda like it. If you’ve ever read the book you know that big sections go along the lines of “and then it rained for five days, and everyone was in a bad mood so no one talked.” “And then Gandalf disappeared somewhere and the dwarves mostly ignored Bilbo.” And the elves are a little silly and sing ‘tra lalala’ a lot. The inclusion of The Pale Orc lends a sense of urgency to the story. And even if it’s completely brand new I like the scenes between Thorin and Bilbo, they’re still in character and spirit to the story as presented in the movie.

And the spirit of the movie, as I see it, is close to the book in that it’s lighter than LotR. And it’s an adventure. For treasure. So it’s fun. Whole lines of dialogue and narration are taken from the book, and any changes made were reasonable and didn’t grate on me. But it’s balanced out by the added material so that it isn’t a complete shock or too kiddy, and I think it strikes a good balance. I’m already pumped to someday do a super marathon of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Some old friends from the LotR trilogy come back with Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, and Elijah Wood reprising their parts for smaller scenes in the movie. Andy Serkis comes back as Gollum and is appropriately in turns skin crawlingly menacing and sadly pathetic. Ian McKellen is still pitch perfect as kindly but mischievous wizard Gandalf the Grey.

Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson in BBC’s Sherlock) is an excellent Bilbo. He’s all nervous energy with a stout honest heart underneath. He comes off very homey, which is how a hobbit should be. On the surface Bilbo is more than a little put out being manipulated into going on this adventure, but instead of giving up or in keeps moving forward with resolve. I particularly liked him during the game of riddles and the last conversation between him and Thorin. I like how movie Bilbo gets to make choices, he chooses to go on the journey, he chooses to stay with the group, it gives the character a sense of agency that works well in the movie. Also that it’s shown him and the dwarves don’t really think much of each other until they’ve proved themselves and the idea of it’s not just treasure but a home -and what it means to have a home- brings them together.

The second biggest role goes to Richard Armitage who almost steals the movie as the exiled dwarven king Thorin. Now if you don’t watch a lot of BBC television, you’re probably thinking ‘Richard who?’ But for me this is one of those moments where I’ve been telling people about an actor and sharing my collection of his work with them for years, ever since his Robin Hood and North & South days. He’s also an amazing narrator and has garnered a following among audio book fans, because he is just an insane talent with his voice as well. Otherwise, the only other place you might know him from would be as the HYDRA assassin in Captain America. Whether he’s a bad ass spy covered in Russian tattoos or a cute accountant, he has this incredible screen presence, this energy, that just makes the characters he plays, and most of it comes from his eyes and his voice (true story: the comrade I went to see this with nodded off during the dwarf song, later she was like “His voice was so calming.”). Which is a lot of introduction to say that when they cast Thorin, they made a perfect choice. Still able to use his eyes and voice to the fullest under the prosthetics, he gives Thorin a haughty royal bearing, a warrior’s intensity, and he feels like he has two hundred years of baggage, you can believe him as a leader. Well I’d follow him into battle.

…It doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage is easy on the eyes, and that the makeup is done in such a way to still let his features come through. I mean, if I were in a tavern and this Thorin sidled up and said, “Och, lassie, can I buy ye a pint?” My answer would be “Aye.” Which puts me in the awkward position of finding a dwarf kinda hot. Thanks a lot, movie.

The other twelve dwarves are played well by actors you’ll recognize if you’ve watched a lot of television from or filmed in New Zealand, Australia, or the British Isles (I’m particularly proud of myself for knowing that Fili was Young Iolaus). With the exception of Balin who I really liked his relationship with Thorin, I wouldn’t say there is a great deal of character development for them, but they are defined from each other visually and put off good energy for being different from each other as people (it’s hard to put into words, they aren’t cardboard cutouts times twelve, ya dig?) Excuse me while I shoot a glare at Snow White and the Huntsman

It’s beautifully shot, the music is beautiful, all that stuff it’s beautiful.

It’s true that it sets up quite a few story lines, as the beginning of a trilogy that’s to be expected, plus it makes no qualms of tying itself into LotR.

I finished this movie ready for more and filled with the warm fuzzies. Let’s see we still got Smaug, Beorn, and Thranduil (Wow at least by looks Lee Pace is perfectly cast) coming down the line. I’m going to have a hard time waiting for the next two. I’m just seriously excited.

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Justin’s Rating: Second breakfast and second helpings of fine first foods

Justin’s Review: When this film came out, a friend tweeted that it felt like “a warm hug from an old friend.”  For those of us who were fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy from the early 2000s, I think this applies wonderfully.  With Peter Jackson at the helm, Howard Shore doing the score again, and plenty of fun little cameos of LOTR characters, it’s hard not to be constantly thinking and comparing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to the much more dark Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It’s a return to the Middle-earth we’ve been obsessing about for years now, and if it’s not quite as epic as Lord of the Rings, should we complain?  Probably not… but maybe.

Let’s back up, because my mind is a tangle of thoughts.

An Unexpected Journey is the first part of Jackson’s take on The Hobbit, which was a children’s book penned by J.R.R. Tolkien long before Lord of the Rings was ever put on paper.  In its original form, The Hobbit was about a high adventure with an unlikely hero — but was pretty much self-contained as far as the reader went.  When Tolkien wrote LOTR, he had to retcon the Hobbit a little (most notably with Gollum and the One Ring) and deal with the fact that the Hobbit has some pretty goofy stuff in it in a way that LOTR certainly does not.  But the bottom line is that the two do connect to each other and to Tolkien’s greater world-building that he did with this franchise.

Jackson’s approach to the Hobbit is not to treat it as a self-contained adventure, but to connect the dots to LOTR and Tolkien’s other writings.  It’s the only way that this could be anything but a single-movie event, since the Hobbit has a children’s book amount of words in it.  So it’s The Hobbit plus a lot of prologue stuff that the average audience may not have ever known about.  It’s some filler (mostly interesting filler, I’ll grant you) and a lot of adherence to what scenes there are in the book.

Jackson frames the new prequel trilogy as a flashback where old Bilbo is writing about these adventures.  Bilbo the Hobbit is a meek soul who wants to be left alone in comfort, but a meddling wizard named Gandalf all but conscripts him into a baker’s dozen of Dwarves for an adventure to reclaim a dragon-infested mountain and a lot of money underneath.  Bilbo resists, gives in, and gets way more than he bargained for.  That’s the long and short of it, really.

I can’t stress enough that while the Hobbit may feel quite similar to LOTR in a lot of ways, it really is a different beast.  There’s a lot more singing, more comedy, and a quest that’s more about just getting rich instead of saving the world.  There’s a lot more room here for Jackson to take his time and establish the history of the world, how the characters are related to each other, and build up a side story involving a Necromancer gaining power in Mirkwood.

Personally, I think where the Hobbit wins or loses its audience is with the dinner scene early on.  This could have been a very quick scene, but Jackson really, really takes his time with it.  It’s here that the quest is fully explained, where the characters have their traits laid out, where relationships are established, where the Dwarves are given a lot more insight than “that one dude from the Lord of the Rings flicks who did not want to be tossed,” and where Bilbo’s struggle between his Tookish and Bagginsish nature is dealt with.  It also has a couple of great songs.  So either this totally lost you and you were bored to tears — in which case the rest of the film is probably a wash, even though there’s tons of action — or it sucked you right in.  I loved it precisely because it refused to budge from the location until all was said and done in a proper fashion.

Later on in the film, a protracted scene with Bilbo and Gollum is also dealt with care, patience, and an attention to what happened in the book.  Heady stuff if you liked that, but it could be boredom-inducing if all you want is more CGI explosions.

From there on, the movie is mostly a snappy action flick, with the Dwarves and their token burglar bouncing from bad situation to bad situation.  My main complaint is that due to the restructuring of the book into a long film series, Bilbo loses some of his importance as the protagonist.  The movie simply has to take the camera away from him for good chunks of running time, and because of that Bilbo’s development and growth goes in fits and starts instead of in a sensible sort of way.  Sometimes you even forget he’s there, which isn’t a good thing.

But I simply cannot complain too much.  An Unexpected Journey gives us a much more light-hearted romp through familiar (and no-so-familiar) landscapes, and I for one will take that warm hug and return it with one of my own.  It’s good to be back.

“...laceration, evisceration, in-incineration?!"

“…laceration, evisceration, in-incineration?!”

Intermission!

  • The Hobbit, or There and Back Again was written by J. R. R. Tolkien and published in 1937. In the ‘The Quest of Erebor,’ it’s explained why Gandalf wanted to get rid of Smaug and of his chance meeting with Thorin. Appendix A in The Lord of the Rings tells how Gandalf was captured by The Necromancer and met Thrain II, Thorin’s father, and how he came into possession of the map and key. Azog does not appear in the book having been killed in the Battle of Azanulbizar, and his son Bolg only pops up at the end. Radagast the Brown also isn’t in The Hobbit, but his part was cut from the LotR movies.
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first feature film to be shot and projected at 48 frames per second, twice as fast as the industry standard of 24 frames.
  • IMDB currently has The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug set for 13 December 2013 (USA) and The Hobbit: There and Back Again for 18 July 2014 (USA)
  • Wilhelm Scream
  • Did some of the goblins make anyone else think of Jim Hensons non-Muppet movies?

Groovy Quotes

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo: You can promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: …No. And if you do, you will not be the same.

Thorin Oakenshield: I cannot guarantee his safety.
Gandalf: Understood.
Thorin: Nor will I be responsible for his fate.

Thorin: I would take each and every one of these dwarves over the mightiest army!

Bilbo: I have… I have never used a sword in my life.
Gandalf: And I hope you never have to. But if you do, remember this: true courage is about not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.

Gandalf: Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid and he gives me courage.

Bilbo: Why don’t we have a game of riddles?
Gollum: And if he loses? What then? Well if he loses precious then we eats it! If Baggins loses we eats it whole!
Bilbo: Fair enough.

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15 Comments

  1. Personally, I’m in between the two camps. I liked what I saw of the LoTR movies fine (which wasn’t all of them; I saw the first one and then half of the second), but I’m not what you’d call a fan of either them or the originals. Hence, I didn’t really care about all the leftover LoTR stuff that got crammed into the movie (although I did kind of like Radagast). I am, however, a big fan of The Hobbit, so I did enjoy the parts that kept to the book – which was most of it, so overall, I thought it was pretty good. I do think, however, that turning the thing into a trilogy is a rather gigantic overindulgence – I mean, the LoTR series was one thing; that already WAS a trilogy, but The Hobbit is 270 pages! Unexpected Journey is about three hours long; that’s more than enough time to fit in every single page of the book with room to spare. Rankin/Bass managed to do the same thing in 76 minutes, people; this is not hard.
    Does that mean I disliked it? No – I thought it was good, and as a Hobbit fan, my butt will be in theaters for movies two and three. I just can’t help but wish we’d got one really good Hobbit movie as opposed to three watered-down ones, which, even if the water is high-class stuff, is what we’re getting.

  2. I read The Hobbit back in 1977 or thereabouts. I knew that Smaug lived in a cave filled with treasure, but until I read Eunice’s review I had no idea that he purposely took the treasure. This leads me to a question: what in the world would a dragon want with treasure? Unless he stole it just to be a jerk. Is that a typical character trait of dragons?

    • Basically, yeah. While details differ from interpretation to interpretation, one of the standard habits of dragons is to horde gold, jewels, etc., until they have a whopping big heap of treasure, and then guard it jealously, typically lounging on top of it and using it for a bed. They don’t generally USE it for anything other than that; the point is simply to have it.

      • That’s open to interpretation, I’d say – I’ve just reread the book, and I don’t recall any particular statement that the jewels are part of a garment. The implication I got is that Middle-Earth dragons just naturally have golden scales and diamond-covered underbellies; it’d be far from the most out-there version I’ve come across.

      • Chapter XII – (spoiler warning here to those who haven’t read The Hobbit)
        ‘Smaug lay, … so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on is costly bed.’

        where Bilbo goes into the lair a second time and talks to Smaug :
        “I have always understood,” said Bilbo in a frightened squeak, “that dragons were softer underneath, especially in the region of the – er – chest; but doubtless one so fortified has thought of that.”
        The dragon stopped short in his boasting. “Your information is antiquated,” he snapped. “I am armoured above and below with iron scales and gems. No blade can pierce me.”
        “I might have guessed it,” said Bilbo. “Truly there can nowhere be found the equal of Lord Smaug the Impenetrable. What magnificence to possess a waistcoat of fine diamonds!”
        “Yes, it is rare and wonderful indeed,”…

        He doesn’t naturally have it, he’s just been sleeping on his horde so long the jewels and gold have embedded themselves in.

      • That’s one way of interpreting it, true. But if they have, then why are only diamonds ever mentioned? Most of what he’s sleeping on is gold, yet no mention is ever made of GOLD on his belly – and that’s a significant omission, both through reasons of logic (if he’s primarily sleeping on gold, why isn’t there any gold?), and story reasons (the dwarves are obsessed with recovering their treasure; if such a large part of it had embedded itself in a dragon’s skin – and it WOULD be a large part, because Smaug is massive – you’d think there’d be some lamentation later (again, spoilers if you haven’t read) about how that rotten dragon flew off with a whopping big chunk of their treasure stuck to him, and now they’d never get it back).
        Mind you, Tolkien never goes into great detail about this, so it’s very much open to interpretation. What I took away from it, though, was that the ‘waistcoat’ comment was not so much a statement about a literal waistcoat that Smaug possessed (or had embedded in him), but an anthropomorphization on Bilbo’s part, in the same way that we talk about penguins having ‘tuxedos’ and white-pawed cats having ‘gloves’. He wasn’t praising Smaug’s taste in clothes/armor; he was flattering him about the gorgeousness of his natural features. (This would also explain why the dragon is so “absurdly pleased” – it’s one thing to receive praise of one’s accoutrements, but how often does a foul wyrm like him get complimented on his LOOKS?)

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  4. It’s fun, entertaining, well-acted, and very nostalgic if you loved the old movies but also very long in how it goes through these tangents and never really settles down from it. Still, it’s an alright time at the movies. Nice review.

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    • As I understand it, there are several discrepancies between how Orcs are handled in the LoTR books and how they’re handled in the Hobbit. In the Hobbit, they’re basically just much bigger and stronger goblins; in the later books, they’re a created species in and of themselves. (Or it’s possible that the movies just took some considerable liberties with that aspect of things; I’m not sure – someone better versed in the books may want to clarify.)

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